Luca Guadagnino is not an easy man to interview. We’re discussing his latest film, A Bigger Splash, a manic exploration of desire, temptation, and The Rolling Stones on the dusty Italian island of Pantelleria, starring the enviable combination of Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Dakota Johnson, and Matthias Schoenaerts.
The Italian director shows little patience for routine questions, the press tour clearly taking its toll. I’m meant to be interviewing him, but at times it feels like the opposite, as he flips questions around, grilling me on my own film knowledge and analysis. Then again, perhaps when you’ve made a film quite as remarkable as A Bigger Splash, you’ve earned the right to grill anyone on film.
A Bigger Splash is a loose remake of the 1969 Jacques Deray film La Piscine. How much did you take from the original?
I would say the literal parts. David Kajganich, the writer, kept the names – he likes to keep names from the previous material, as if a movie is like a book, it’s like a template. Or the idea that there are two men, two women; one daughter, one former girlfriend, one new boyfriend. Those are the elements, the literality. But I have always taken great pride in never believing in the literal.
The film boasts an undeniably attractive cast, but what’s notable is that it uses both the male gaze and female gaze, the camera lingering on attractive shots of both genders—
The ideal in life would be to be both male and female. I envy bisexual people. I try to make my camera as trans as possible, by making sure that the gaze is not a vertical, pre-ordained gaze. But often movies are like that, they establish levels of importance of attraction. I do believe that a camera should be open to everything, as much as we are not open in life to everything.
Don’t you think so? Were you uncomfortable when the camera turned to the male gaze, or the female gaze?
No, not at all. Though on the topic of appearances, the costuming for the film came partly from Dior, is that right?
The costume designer of the movie was Giulia Piersanti, not only a very dear friend of mine but a woman who I admire for her craft and taste, utterly. So when we conceived the body of work for this movie in terms of costume design, we really digged into every single character to try to understand how to approach them in an expressionist way, a behaviourist way, and a stylistic way. When it came to Marianne Lane, we gave her the background of being the daughter of a great actress, so someone who had lived in an elite world since she was born. Her status as a big rock star led us to the concept of a woman with a wardrobe that was exceptional and specific, but at the same time spoke of a loose elegance, that could be striking and relevant to the place, Pantelleria.
So I had in mind the great collaboration I did with Raf Simons for I Am Love. Then I said to myself, ‘Let’s do it again.’ At this time Raf was the Creative Director of the Maison Dior, so I had friends there. We all gathered together: Julia; Raf; Pieter Mulier, who was Raf’s right-hand man at Dior; and Olivier Bialobos, the Head of Communications at Dior. We realised that there was something organic to the movie, the characters, and Dior, so we put it together and so the movie is a mixture of these great elements. You have the virile, unassumingness of Paul; you have the flirtatious, contemporary look of Penelope; you have the timeless, masculine, tailor-made elegance of Harry; and you have the iconic wardrobe of Marianne Lane, brought by the collaboration of all these people together.
As the film progresses, African migrants play a bigger role. Why is that?
It’s something that is in the place, it’s something that is denied by the characters. But then when they realise that presence, what is interesting to me is what they do about it. It’s about our moral choices in the presence of ‘the other’.
Was it a conscious decision that the first time we see migrants, they’re a startling, threatening presence?
That depends on the eyes of the beholder. For me, they are not threatening. They’re staring, they’re like deer caught by the light of a car. There are these two foreign groups: the whites, Penelope and Paul; and the African refugees, looking at each other and saying, ‘What do we do?’ This moment is so revelatory of the encounter with ‘the other’. It’s a mutual study. It’s a mutual impossibility. I can’t be part of your world, you can’t be part of my world.
Both A Bigger Splash and I Am Love feature a lot of lingering shots of food—
Well, we eat, we drink, we shit, we sleep. That’s what we do. You can’t deny the presence of some elements. It was riveting to see in the last Star Wars, by JJ Abrams, the Daisy Ridley character actually eating. I don’t remember any food in the previous six pieces. Often movies are abstract, they don’t deal with the human activities, such as eating and drinking, which are so relevant and consistent to our existence.
There is a great film by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, called Cemetery of Splendour, an absolute masterpiece for the ages. There is this mysteriously disturbing yet beautiful shot of a man shitting in the jungle. I wish I had the guts and the capacity to create such a powerful, striking image of human behaviour.
Finally, your next film is a remake of Dario Argento’s Suspiria—
Are you hating the fact that someone is remaking it, as a pre-ordained point of view?
No, no, I’m open to it. But given it’s your second remake in a row, how are you approaching it, especially since it’s such an iconic film?
We’ll see, we’ll see. Either it’s gonna be a bigger splash, or it’s gonna be a bigger triumph. We’ll see.
A Bigger Splash is reviewed in Candid Issue 12, available right now.
Words by Dominic Preston